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This talk was given in Sydney to a group of leaders just before the Grace and Healing Conference in Sydney, 1999. The main theme is getting a foundation in God’s love. It was followed by a question and answer session.
The last two to go out of the ten that are now out of the ministry – one is my oldest friend, and one is a family member – have both blown themselves up through sexual sin. And they’re not lascivious, sexual sin type candidates – they weren’t addicted to pornography or anything that you would think would set them up for it. It’s just being in the ministry – the wear and tear of ministry, the wear and tear on marriages – and they just found themselves in a far country. Then someone else found out about it, and as they say, the rest is history.
Groups like Fuller Seminary and Trinity Seminary keep track of their graduates, and about seventy five percent of the graduates from the Master of Divinity degree, which gets you open to be certified by denominations, are out of the ministry within ten years. Huge attrition.
Many denominations make a lot of money on their retirement fund, because the men who are in ministry and pay into that retirement fund don’t make it. They’re either kicked out because of sex or money scandals, or they burn out and have to quit, or they die. One way or another they don’t have to pay out those benefits, so they make a lot of money from that particular program.
There are reasons to think that the modern pace of society is really hard on people in general, and hard on ministers, but as it turns out, watching this, watching big names and little names and friends and enemies alike going down the tubes because of money and sex primarily – sometimes power, or as someone I used to know used to say, “girls, gold and glory” – I thought that maybe the challenges of today, and the stress and strain of today is partly what’s making this attrition rate higher and higher. But then as I studied history, I found out that it’s pretty much the way it’s always been.
And then I had an interesting thought. We have enough biographical information to track a number of the prophets, priests, kings and judges in the Old Testament, and a few in the New Testament. Enough to discover that the percentages are just about the same. About seventy five percent of the leaders in the Old and the New Testament do not finish well.
So there’s something inherent in ministry. There’s something inherent in going from being a target, a member of the family of God, to being the bullseye of the target – being in some kind of high profile, identifiable ministry.
That would mean that many of us in this room are at risk, for one reason or another. And my prayer is that I might be allowed to be able to say something helpful, and the Holy Spirit, despite what I say, might be able to reach you and bring some kind of resolution, some kind of healing, some kind of stability, so that you can beat the odds. Because a large percentage of the people in this group won’t be in ministry for bad reasons ten years from now, unless we do something to change the dynamic.
We trust the revelation of Jesus Christ to reveal the Father, we trust the revelation of Scripture that shows us that you are good, all the time. And we ask now, Holy Spirit, that you would be the great Teacher that you are. Amen.
Finishing well seems to have to do with three journeys. There’s the upward journey – draw an arrow sticking up in the air. Then there’s the inward journey – think of two arrows coming from opposite ends pointing in. And then there’s the outward journey – think of two arrows pointing out.
The upward journey, of course, is our integration with God – our need for him, our trust in him, the time that we spend with him, the way that we allow him to influence us. Our personal relationship with God – all the different ways that that happens. That’s a critical journey that we need to be constantly making. We need to be oriented to God.
The second journey, the inward journey, is the way we look at and take seriously what is going on inside us. Attending to our own healing, attending to the stuff that’s wrong with us. There is a big evangelical tradition, at least in my part of the world, where we don’t trust our feelings, and we’re not going to worry too much about what’s going on inside – that’s changing a little bit with the whole inner healing thing – but by and large, men especially have a tendency to deny bad feelings and not pay attention to, and not be able to interpret what these bad feelings mean.
Our feelings are not good or bad, they just give us information about what is going on. It’s like the red light on your dashboard – when it goes off, it means oil, or it means overheating – it means something is bad, something is going wrong. And what we have a tendency to do is to take some tape and to put it over the red light, and not pay attention to the pain in our own lives, and take it seriously. And go for help. That’s the inward journey, and we need to be working on that all the time. Not becoming preoccupied with it, but working on it all the time.
The third journey is the outward journey – that is, reaching out to other people. Always reaching out, cultivating friendships, developing intimacy with at least a few other people. Finding people that you can be honest with, and that you can trust and be trusted by. That’s the outward journey.
If you keep those three journeys healthy and vital and dynamic, the chances of your finishing well in ministry or in life, or as a husband or a wife or a father or a mother, go up significantly. What I discovered in looking at my friends, the ten who blew themselves up – none of them were taken out, except for one who died from brain cancer – aside from him, everybody else self-destructed. No one undid them. They undid themselves.
I was close to all of them – some of them weren’t close to me, but I was close to them and interested in them. But what I didn’t realise was that as they began distancing themselves from me, it was a danger sign. And I should have paid more attention to it, but I didn’t know. I actually had a dream about one of them that he was having an affair. And I’d never detected any hormones in the guy, so I didn’t think that his having a sexual affair would even be a possibility for him. I didn’t take the promptings of the Holy Spirit seriously. As it turns out, he was having sex with not one, but two of his staff members. And that was found out, and that was the end of his life.
I watched them withdraw from significant other people that they had been related to. They stopped being open, and they stopped sharing. There is something about keeping your stuff in the light that diffuses it. It’s almost as if the Holy Spirit will work with anything that’s in the light, and that which is in the dark belongs to the other guy. It just seems to be that way.
Time and time again, this is what’s happened. People can be just as broken and messed up as possible, but if they will keep it out there on the table, somehow they make it. And it’s when they hide it and stuff it down that it finally blows up, and there’s bodies everywhere, depending on how big they are – how many people they’ve influenced and how large their “ministry” is. There are bodies everywhere when they self-destruct.
So these journeys are critical. I’m no expert on anybody else’s upward journey, but I know that it broke down. I know that their outward journey broke down, you could see that. And I know through their denial and not paying attention to the flashing red light on the dashboard of their soul that they weren’t paying attention to the inward journey either.
So if you want to maximise the possibility of your spiritual, emotional, relational and ministry health, you keep those three journeys vital and healthy. And I can guarantee that you will increase the possibility of ending well.
All of us can find weaknesses in one of those journeys. I can find mine, and I’m sure you can find yours. I encourage you to work on them.
Saul allowed his upward, inward and outward journeys to disintegrate. And we know through the record in 1 Samuel and through the psalms that David wrote that he strove to keep those three journeys healthy and dynamic.
Just one quick text that well get us going on this: 1 Samuel 13:5-14.
Saul was always out fighting somebody. The Philistines assembled to fight against Israel with 3000 chariots, 6000 charioteers and soldiers, as numerous as the sand of the sea shore. Again, getting back to what I said earlier, the Israelites it seems were always outgunned and always outmanned. They went up and camped at Micmash east of Beth Aven. When the men of Israel saw their situation was critical, and that their army was hard pressed, they hid in caves and thickets and among the rocks and the pits and the cisterns. Some Hebrews even crossed the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead.
Saul remained at Gilgal, and all the troops with him were quaking with fear. He waited seven days, the time set by Samuel, but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and Saul’s men began to scatter. There comes a pressure time in all of our ministries where things look like they’re going bad, and the tendency is to light our own fires, to produce our own power, and to take matters into our own hands. When it looks like God is not going to come through with what we think he’s promised that he’s going to come through with, the pressure will come to us.
So he said, “Bring me the burnt offering” – which, of course, only Samuel was allowed to make. But he took matters into his own hands. And Saul offered up the burnt offering. Just as he finished making the offering, Samuel arrived. And Saul went out to greet him. “What have you done?” asked Samuel.
Saul replied, “When I saw that the men were scattering” – when I saw with my human eyes that things weren’t going well, I began doubting what the word of the Lord had already told me in unambiguous terms. “When I saw that you did not come at the set time” – whose fault is it? It’s somebody else’s fault. You see, already Saul isn’t taking responsibility for his actions. That’s another dead give away that something’s going wrong with these journeys. “It’s your fault that I did this.” He’s not going to take responsibility for his sin. Bad, bad first sign. He’s not going to get it out in the light.
“You did not come at the set time, and the Philistines were assembled at Micmash. I thought” – I thought – “now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal.” He imagined a disaster. God has promised to be with him. God has promised that he will defend him and he will make him victorious over his enemies, but Saul is doubting. You could write a book on this.
“I thought now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the Lord’s favour. So I felt compelled” – I felt compelled – “to offer burnt offerings.” “You acted foolishly,” Samuel said. “You have not kept the command of the Lord your God.” The destruction of his upward journey.
The destruction of our upward journey comes in lots of different manifestations. One is simply not cultivating our affection for him. Not spending time with him. You know, all that evangelical quiet time, scripture, prayer – all that stuff. It’s all valuable.
Finding ourselves looking at the problems as big, and forgetting how big God is. Forgetting that it was God who destroyed the Egyptians at the Red Sea. Forgetting that God had beaten the tar out of his enemies through a tiny little band led by Gideon, and on and on and on. He had all of this history in his tradition, and also a lot of personal history to give him enough confidence that God would take care of business. But he decided to see the problems as bigger than God.
So you can see all the symptoms here of the destruction of the upward journey. “You acted foolishly,” Samuel said. “You have not kept the command of the Lord your God which he gave to you. If you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command.”
Just not keeping the Lord’s command, just not doing what God says, is part and parcel of the destruction – it’s really more of a symptom of the latter stages of the destruction of the upward journey.
As you know, it goes on from there. This event seems to be critical – this is the defining event, the turning point for Saul. You can see all kinds of symptoms leading up to this. Keeping this upward journey intact seems to be all important.
But soon the inward journey began to disintegrate, too. Saul started to go nuts. He just started to lose his mind. The old bean box just sprung leaks. He began to become paranoid and manifesting all kinds of other things – rage and mental illness, and he got some demons to complicate matters. And when he did seek help, he sought it from who? A witch.
So his inward journey began to show wear and tear. And then his outward journey began to seriously disintegrate. He fell out with his staff members, with his family members – Jonathan – and finally, he tried several times to have killed and to kill David, the most loyal staff member that he had.
So we see his own lack of courage in keeping the upward journey intact, we see that inward journey disintegrating as a result probably, and we see the outward journey – keeping good relationships with significant other people – being destroyed as well.
David, by contrast, did much better. He wasn’t perfect at it, by the way. For some of you, no matter how the good news is preached, you’re going to find some way to feel guilty about it. Notice that David was far from perfect in his maintenance of the upward, inward and outward journeys. He violated a whole lot. But basically, he came back to the upward journey. That seems to be critical. If we continually orient ourselves to God, we will find the strength to face what’s going on inside us, and the courage to keep our relationships dynamic.
We can read through David’s life in 1 Samuel and we can look at the psalms that he wrote, and we can see that he was intense about the upward journey. “Unto to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.” He’s always saying to God, “I love you, I praise you, I trust you, in you only do I find my fountains – all my fountains are in you.”
Even when he sins big, he snaps back to God. Remember the Nathan and David and Bathsheba and Uriah the Hitite story. When David did something that was really humiliating, a serious violation of the upward, inward and outward journey – upwardly he just disobeyed God in the most gross and hideous way.
He destroyed that upward journey. He ignored it. He’s eaten up with lust. He’s already got more women than he can spend time with anyway, but he’s eaten up with lust. He sees a woman bathing, and he doesn’t pay attention to what’s going on inside. He doesn’t attend to that, because he’d already violated the upward journey, so he didn’t have the strength to deal with what was going on inside. And of course, he has Uriah the Hitite killed, and he involves and implicates some of his closest friends in that crime, so he destroys the outward journey as well.
But when he is confronted, he doesn’t say, “It’s God’s fault” or “it’s the prophet’s fault.” He says, “Against you God, you only have I sinned.” And he comes back through repentance. Repentance is sometimes preached as this horrible thing, this bad thing, and you’ve got to have a high snot factor, and you’ve got to wail and moan, and you’ve got to really get into this repentance thing in order for it to be real, and we’re manipulated to repent and all that stuff. And as it turns out, it’s just this wonderful gift.
Repentance is just coming back to God and saying, “You’re right and I’m wrong. And if you don’t fix me, I’m always going to be this way. Against you have I sinned. Do something, because I’ve got nothing. You do something. Kill me, resurrect me, forgive me, you do whatever, but it’s all out here in the open.”
So he gets it all out in the open, and he says, “God, I ask you to forgive me. I’m wasting away here. My bones are in real bad shape. Everything is bad here. You do something.” That’s repentance – it’s a gift. It’s just this huge benefit when we see it properly. And David always did that. Here’s repentance, which is supposed to do something religious, and what it does is it helps us restore in upward, inward and outward journey.
So the upward journey is maintained by David, and he snaps back even when it’s really difficult for him to. David is always striving for integration. He’s always striving for inner healing. He’s honest and forthright about his complaint. He gets his feelings right out there. He was a healthy combination of masculine and feminine. You’ve got the masculine warrior, the toughness, all the dragon slaying stuff that is supposed to be stereotypical man, and then you’ve got all of this emoting going on – all the stuff that women are supposed to be good at. David had the whole package. American and Australian men could learn something from David in this regard.
He’s getting his emotions out. “Lord, how long are my enemies going to triumph over me?” And “It’s all your fault!” He’s always complaining, he’s always getting it out there. But he’s always also affirming that which brings him joy. He’s always expressing his love and his joy as well. He’s getting it all out there.
This is where I got the paradigm of the upward, inward and outward journey – going through Saul and David, and watching how they reacted to the pressure points. You can validate what I’ve done or not, but that seems to be what’s going on. David kept it going and Saul didn’t.
The first question is, how can we spot somebody who has a healthy upward journey towards God? How can we tell if somebody really knows God?
[ People’s answers: how they live their life; joy; humility; peace; transparency; self acceptance; passionate; radiant ]
All good answers. Let me give you the Bible’s answer. Before I do that, we could have also added some more. You had much better answers than most groups would, I think. I expected to hear, “somebody who attends to the Bible.” I mean, how do you know God, except in the Bible? Except that the Pharisees knew the Bible really well and didn’t know God, but never mind.
You’re charismatic, so you think somebody who knows God is somebody who operates in spiritual gifts and prophesies. Somebody who can read God’s thoughts and speak them to us must really know God, right? These are all logical things, but here’s the Bible’s answer.
1 John 4:7 and following says, “Dear friends, let us love one another” – the outward journey – “for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” The person who loves is the person who knows God.
Think about the people who are in the leadership of the church who are arrogant, self-assured, spend a whole lot of time working on tightening up their doctrine, who would never do immoral, bad things that are trivial – drinking and stuff like that – but who you would never in a million years describe as people who love. You all know people like that.
If they don’t love, they don’t know God. This is the critical, defining symptom – somebody with a healthy upward journey is somebody who manifests love to other people. The person who knows God is the person who loves.
Jesus was asked by somebody, “What matters most in the world?” and Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and love your neighbour as yourself.” Jesus was describing somebody who knows God. Again, we could move off in the wrong direction now by me exhorting you to love God better. “Spend more time loving God, you guys.” So everybody goes out of here feeling all confused and wondering, “What do I do that I’m not already doing?”
Let me tell you what to do that you’re not already doing – and it’s good news. It’s all good news. Let me read the rest: “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: he sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he first loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is made perfect in us.”
So the key symptom of somebody who has a healthy upward journey, which is going to make the inward journey and the outward journey possible, is somebody who loves and knows God. That person didn’t learn to love and to know God through discipline or hard work – that person learned to know and love God by being loved by God.
The critical thing that you and I have to do, one way or another, is find ways, find environments, find techniques if you will, find people, find some way to be loved by God. I think that the greatest value of the various renewal things that come roaring through the church and confuse us and make us crazy is that it’s God’s attempt to break through, and it comes through in a weird, violent, chaotic way sometimes, because what he wants to do is to love us – to touch us. I think that we could have a whole lot more orderly renewal and revival and transformation of our society if we were just able to be easier for God to love.
I think that a lot of the stress and the strain on us is just God finding some way to get through and to love us, and some people have to take a trip to the carpet in order for that to happen. There’s no virtue in that at all, it just happens to be that that might be one of the ways that it has to happen for people. He knocks them out on the carpet so that he can love them. And they could have got that just sitting in the corner at home.
1 Corinthians 13 is one of the tip-offs to this, isn’t it. “If I have everything going for me, if I can speak in the tongues of men and of angels, if I have the Bible memorised, if I do everything well, and I’m so virtuous I can even give my body to be burned and give everything away to the poor – I can do all that, but if I don’t love, it’s nothing.”
Let me tell you something else. If you are not experiencing God’s love for you, you won’t be able to love, and your ministry amounts to nothing.
Paul had this one wired. Ephesians 3:14-19: “For this reason, I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through the Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and how long and how high and how deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with the full measure of the fullness of God.”
You get the full measure of the fullness of God, which is everything that you ever dreamed possible, and you get it through being loved by Jesus Christ. It was there all the time, just like a bomb ready to go off in our face. That’s the key – it’s being loved. It’s nothing that we have to go out and do that brings us love, joy, peace and all those other things that you pointed out – those are symptoms of being known and loved by God. And being able to be loved enables us to love, and that’s the demonstration that we know God.
That’s it. And it’s really democratic, because you don’t have to be intelligent. You don’t have to be a man. You don’t have to be in leadership. You don’t have to be anything. You don’t have to be “somebody” in the institutional sense. Anybody can allow themselves to be loved by God, and because of that, be able to love others.
I can’t send you to a book, because nobody’s written a book on this. I can’t send you to some technique to let yourself be loved by God. It’s just something that you do. Maybe because I’m not good at it, I don’t have a ready answer for that. Don’t even ask me about that, because I don’t have an answer for that.
And whatever you do, as pastors, don’t go tinkering around in other people’s lives unless you like them and love them. Unless you respect the God image in them, you’ll do more damage than good.
Love is everything. And I’m so disappointed about that! Because I’m good at everything else! And this is the one thing that matters. A lot of people preach their pet theories and their hobby horses and stuff like that. This isn’t something I gravitated towards naturally. This just points out my own weakness and my own brokenness and my own need. This is not a fun thing for me to talk about. Because it makes me look foolish, because we’re talking about something that I just don’t do very well.
Paul says, the very first thing you do is be rooted and grounded in love – that is the foundation of your Christian life. I had a dramatic, “filthy beast becomes raving evangelist overnight” conversion in 1957. And for two years while I was in the army, which was when it happened – I had a foxhole conversion, it was during the whole Vietnam thing – I couldn’t wait to get out of the army and to finish university and find a church to plug into so that these people who were professionals at this Christian thing could root me and ground me in the Christian faith.
And one of the very first things they did was to put me to work teaching the youth group. But I said, “Look, what do I do? How do I build a foundation under this experience of God rescuing me?” He rescued me from physical death, and I was half crazy with fear and anxiety, and he rescued me from that and gave me all these huge benefits. “What do I do now to do this whole Christian thing right?”
They meant well, but they told me what you would have told me. Read you Bible, tithe, pray, have a quiet time, share your faith, attend services. These are all the things that you do to build a Christian foundation. Not once, not ever, did anybody say, “Kenny boy, the first thing that you do is you get rooted and grounded in love. That’s your foundation.” Despite the fact that you could hardly imagine more unambiguous language in the third chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. You could hardly imagine clearer instructions on what we do to build a foundation for our lives. “Be rooted and grounded first of all in God’s love.”
You can’t love unless you are loved. You can’t love yourself, and you can’t love others. You can’t do the outward and inward journeys until you’re loved by God. That’s the key – you can’t love God unless he loves you, you can’t love yourself and love others unless he loves you and you have an experience of that love. I’m not talking about some abstract thing, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so” – you’ve got to have something a little more than words on a page. It has to be an experience.
There has to be an experience that we open ourselves up to somehow, and cultivate somehow. Not once did any of the elder statesmen say this – they gave me books, in fact, and then I went out and bought a whole bunch more. “Handbook for new believers.” It was a list of things I had to do. Nothing about God. And because I was this brand new Christian and my theological education had been the New Testament, C. S. Lewis and A. W. Tozer, and I didn’t know anything about anything, I just took their word for it.
I read books – the shortest list was eight, the biggest list was fifteen things you have to do now that you are a Christian. I love Billy Graham, but go to one of his crusades, and they’ll give you a book – here’s what you do now that you came forward and took Jesus as your personal Saviour. Read your Bible, witness, get into fellowship, tithe, blah blah blah.
All good things – I do them all, and I encourage you to do them all. But it’s not the foundation. It’s just bits and pieces of the structure that you put on top of the foundation. The foundation is a sensation of being loved by the Father.
After I graduated from university, I was headed towards business, and I got a call – what can I say. It became pretty clear to me that the thing I enjoyed most was knowing God and helping other people get to know God, and that meant some form of ministry or a missionary or something. The thought at the time didn’t appeal to me, and quite frankly it appeals to me even less thirty years later. But that just seemed to be the thing that I should do.
And so I started asking people, I started asking ministers, “It looks like I’m going to head towards seminary, it looks like I’m going to be a minister or a missionary or something. So what do I do?”
Do you know what I heard? “You need to learn how to preach. You need to learn how to teach. You need to learn how to counsel. You need to learn how to administrate.” I was given all kinds of really good, sincere instructions from my elders in the ministry about building a foundation for ministry.
But not once, not ever, did anybody say, “Kenny boy, the first thing you’ve got to do is be rooted and grounded in God’s love, because you’re going to be lethal if you don’t. You’re going to burn out and blow up, and you’re going to do people more damage than good, with your energy and your mind, unless you’re rooted and grounded in God’s love. Unless you know his love for you, you’re going to always be crazy, and you’re never going to make it.”
And at one point, in the middle of winter, he was given a chance to build a big custom house on a golf course. All the other crews had shut down, because it was bitter cold in the middle of winter, and you don’t build houses in the middle of winter. But he wanted to keep his crew attached to him, and he wanted to enable them and himself to make some money, so he took the contract.
The way they build houses back east in the United States is, they dig a hole for a basement, they put in some concrete footers, lay a foundation on top of that, and then that’s the basement, and then comes the first floor, and then the second floor.
So they went to work and they started building it, and it took a couple of weeks. And they built this huge, huge home, and they were in the process of tacking down the three quarter inch plywood on the top of the roof, when the whole house shifted and fell off to one side. Hammers and boxes of nails go flying off the top of the roof, and they hang on for dear life. Something had gone terribly wrong. This is not what the buyer had in mind.
So my friend Terry pulls of one of the plywood sheets and drops down to the top story, and there he saw the havoc that was left. The windows were popped out, and the plywood floors had buckled and peeled away. And he said, “That’s got to be fixed, but that’s not the problem.”
Then he went to the spiral staircase that dropped down to the first floor, and it had pulled away from its attachment, so he grabbed hold of the edge and dropped down to the first floor. He saw that the doors had popped out on one side, and they were now like a parallelogram instead of squared. And he said, “That’s got to be fixed, but that’s not the problem.”
Then he went to the door that led down to the basement, and he shone a torch into the corner – and there he saw the problem. As I said, the way they build houses in the eastern part of the United States is, they dig a hole, and that’s the basement. Sometimes they finish it and sometimes they don’t. And that’s where the foundation is laid. They put in concrete footers, and they put cinder blocks on top of that, and then they start building the house on top of that.
Here’s what had happened. It was bitter cold, and when they laid the concrete, which they call “green” concrete, they didn’t allow it long enough to set. It would have been fine in the middle of summer, but in winter, it didn’t dry quickly enough. So it remained green while they put the cinder blocks on top of it, and then started building this huge house on top of that.
And so it got so big, and so heavy, that finally one day towards the end of the construction, they were lifting up the last three quarter inch sheets of plywood, with all these big two hundred pound men up on top, and it was just enough to collapse one side of it.
As he told me that story, which seems funny now to him, it seemed like a prophetic story for me and for my life. Because I had just gone through a very difficult period where I had hit the windscreen of life going two hundred miles per hour with my hair on fire. Since nobody sat me down when I became a Christian and said, the first thing you need is to be rooted and grounded in love – the first thing that needs to happen is that you need to have a foundation of God’s love, and you need to learn and cultivate ways of loving him back and loving other people, and then you might be fit for ministry.
Before I did that, I started building a ministry. I got degrees, I wrote books, I had kids, planted lots of churches, accepted lots of invitations to travel around the country, hooked up with John Wimber, which even further complicated things, and made my life bigger and bigger, and taller and taller, and heavier and heavier – and I was carrying a lot of weight. I was juggling a lot of balls, use whichever analogy you want. I was doing a lot of stuff in ministry, and a lot of it was working. But it was way too heavy for the foundation that I’d laid.
Five years ago, not too long after I saw you last, I just splattered on the windscreen. I got very, very ill, so tired I could hardly get out of bed – and this lasted for about six months. I tried to hide it – great strategy. My wife knew, my kids knew, but I tried it to hide it from the church and from other people, and I kept accepting invitations. I wanted to keep doing this. I was driven – I don’t know why I was driven. At least I didn’t know at the time. I just kept doing stuff. I kept building – even after the house had fallen over, I’m still building on it. What’s that about?
And then my congregation said, it looks like you’re dying. We don’t want to watch it. You need to either go away and get better, or die. So they sent me on sabbatical for three months, and I went away thinking, great, now I’ll be able to finish that book I started ... I swear to you, I took all my books, all my research, all my notes. But I didn’t write a word of that book, because I just got worse and worse. I just got more and more tired, and more and more wrecked. I slept fourteen hours a day, and then I would go back and have a couple of naps in the middle of the day. I was just wrecked. I came very close to being part of that statistic – guys that don’t finish well in ministry.
One of the good things that happened during that time was that God began showing me my house. He said, “Come on, Ken, let’s drop down to that first level.” And there I saw compulsive work habits, I saw a lot inner self drivenness and self criticism. And that’s a problem, it’s got to be fixed, but it’s not the problem.
Then I dropped down to the second level, and saw a lot of fear, a lot of anxiety about failure. I saw a lot of stuff there that was wrong and that needs to be fixed. I need some therapy, I need some counselling, I need some prayer. All that’s got to be fixed, but that’s not the problem.
And then slowly and very gently, he opened up the basement door and shined a light into the corner of the foundation of my life. And there it was. I had never been rooted and grounded in love. I started building while my foundation was still green. It hadn’t set. I hadn’t let it harden.
I was so eager, so ready – you know, world champion athlete in several events. I’m a type A, hard driver, let’s charge the mountain, let’s get it over with, let’s do it and then do it some more and then do it until we drop, and rest a little bit and do it some more – that was my motto. Let’s just go, let’s accomplish, let’s find some dragons. If there aren’t any out there to slay, let’s invent some. Let’s take somebody else’s dragons away from them. Let’s just do it!
I had never simply allowed myself to be loved and for God to show his affection to me, and by then, I didn’t have a clue how to do it. That’s just one of the things in the past four years that I’ve been learning. I feel very clumsy and very awkward about it, but it’s the major agenda now. To be loved by God, and to in turn love him – herein is love, not that we loved him, but that he loved us. To find ways of being loved by God, and to love him back, and to express love to other people. And that’s it. And then if I preach some decent sermons and write some books and do some other stuff along the way, so much the better.
And like I said, it makes me feel foolish, because it’s not something I’m particularly good at. I’m good at this. I’m good at communicating and putting ideas together. I just love to live in my head. You know, you like things that you’re good at, and you feel really uncomfortable about things that you’re clumsy at doing. I’m not going to play tennis in front of you. I’ll swim some laps. I’ll ride a horse. But I’m not going to play tennis in front of you, because I’m no good at it. I want to do things that I’m good at.
In the strong name of the Lord Jesus Christ, I ask now for an anointing of God’s love and the experience of God’s love to rest on us. I ask you Holy Spirit to take the things which are of Christ and just as he said, make them known to us. I believe those words. I have total faith in those words that you, Father, told Jesus. He only did what you told him to do. I believe, Father, that you told Jesus to say the Holy Spirit would come, and he would take the things that are mine, and make them known to you.
Jesus loved the Father with all his heart, mind and soul. He had that upward journey. And Jesus had that inward journey squared away. He understood his insides, and he attended to what was going on inside him. Through prayer, even in Gethsemane, he poured out his heart. “Father, I don’t want to do this. Take it away.” He was forthright and honest with his emotions, and with his own suffering.
And he had that whole outward journey thing going. He loved people, he cared for them. And he also reached out to them, and said, “Could you watch with me, please, and pray? I need some help, brothers.”
I say to you, brothers and sisters, that that self same Lord Jesus Christ lives inside you. Don’t make the mistake that I’ve made by looking at your brokenness and thinking that’s your identification. Your real identification, my real identification, is the fully formed, completely healthy and integrated Lord Jesus Christ who lives inside you, who has a perfect upward journey, and is perfectly related to the Father. Who has a perfect inward journey and a perfect outward journey. And he wants right now for you to experience his bigger presence in you. You don’t have to look at any of this stuff as stuff that you have to do.
I pray right now, Holy Spirit, that you take the things that are of Jesus, his personality, his sanity, his wholeness, and make it known to us. Fill us out from the inside where Christ dwells by faith.
I pray Holy Spirit now that you will especially strengthen and establish that upward journey, especially the first part of it, which is looking up to the Father and letting him love us. I pray Holy Spirit, take that affirmation, the day that Jesus was baptised and you said, “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased.” Jesus never did anything to earn that. He hadn’t preached any sermons or done any miracles. The Father loved him before he did anything. Herein is love – not that Jesus first loved God, but that the Father first loved and affirmed Jesus.
Jesus is in you, and the Father is affirming you at the core of your being right now, saying, “This is my daughter, in whom I am well pleased. This is my son, in whom I am well pleased. I love you whether you ever do anything for me ever again. I love you whether you are good or bad. I love you because I’m your Father.”
I pray Holy Spirit that you’ll just make that known to us. Come, Holy Spirit, in greater intensity. Holy Spirit, bless us all now, with a more intense and real sensation and experience of your affection and your love. Do it in a way that’s appropriate to you. Do it in a way that is love to us. Make it strong, make it in a way that changes us and moves us, and reorients us. And don’t let us go back to the old pattern of doing more and trying harder. Help us to first know what it is to be loved, and then to love.
Let’s just take a few minutes and just be quiet and let the Father give you a sensation of his affection. It may come as pictures, it may come as a feeling, it may come as a “knowing” in your knower, if you know what that is. Just let that come in ways that are appropriate to you. You don’t have to mimic anything that you’ve ever seen, you don’t have to do anything, you don’t have to have any kind of visible thing happen. It’s fine if it does, but it’s not necessary. Just absorb his love, soak in his love. That’s the first thing. Everything else is built on that foundation.
I say on behalf of all of us, Father, we love you back. And maybe what’s more important is, we like you. We like the way you move. We like your values. We enjoy you as a person. We trust your character. You are so wonderful. Even the suffering that we experience, sometimes even for your sake, you work together for good. Nothing is lost to you. It all cashes out to love. You find a way to love us in pleasant ways, and even through our adversity. Continue to open us up and to bless us, and just as importantly, enable us to bless other people with this insight. Amen.
First of all, I think that I would probably try to be love to them. I think that for young people especially, what they see is a whole lot more important than what they think they hear. And then I would really back off on the oughts and shoulds. I’ve never seen a youth group that wasn’t more concerned about keeping them out of bed and off drugs than about anything else. It’s just all moralism. It’s like, your parents didn’t nag you enough at home about being good, you have to get it at youth group too.
So I would probably find some way of letting them know they’re OK just the way they are. That God loves the hormone crazed, sex addicted kids just as much as he loves anybody else. And you don’t have to change to be loved by God – you’re OK just the way you are.
I would probably say things like that, while also saying, maybe in the same breath, out of my own experience and background – I was caught up in the early stages of the whole hippy thing in the sixties and early seventies in San Fransisco – the drugs and the sex and everything seemed like such a good idea at the time, and it wrecked everybody. Some of us got converted and got out, but everybody that didn’t got wrecked. And so being good and doing the right thing definitely has life enhancing values. But it’s not what gets God to love you. God loves you whether you’re good or bad.
So I would want to communicate that in words, and then I would want to show them a lot of grace in the way that I treated them. If I were a youth worker, I would probably have better answers for you, but I would have that at the very least. I’d just talk incessantly about God’s love. God loves you. And here’s why, and here’s how. This is the grace of God.
You might want to get the tape series on The Father Loves You about the father who had two sons. I would tell them about the character of the Father. I would study that in little pieces, short attention span pieces, fifteen minutes at a time. And at the same time I would counsel them about why good behaviour, what Christians used to call holiness, is really good for you. It’s in your best interests. But it doesn’t get God to love you.
The people I work with suffer so much rejection, they find it very hard to receive any kind of love. Is there some approach we could use while praying for a revelation?
Good question. I work a lot with those same kinds of people, and the first thing I would say is that it generally takes a long time. And I can tell you something else – it doesn’t matter what I say. I can say everything really well. I can be the most sincere and open, loving person. But if the Holy Spirit doesn’t do a little power magic in people who have grown up in rejection, nothing happens. That’s my experience. We are really dependent, not on our counselling skills, or even good theology – the Holy Spirit has to come in some kind of power, or we’re dead in the water.
Actually, that’s how I got into this. One of my three serious burnouts was when I was working on the streets in Vancouver, Canada. I was working primarily with kids from other parts of America who had run away from other parts of Canada to come out to the beach. They were largely homeless street kids. They knew rejection at home – that’s why they were here. And I was a mainstream, theologically arrogant, middle of the road evangelical at the time, and all I knew to do was “preach the word” and counsel them. And nothing was happening, except that I was dying.
After a couple of years of doing this mission, I started a church, and we had a bookstore, and we had counselling services, we gave food away, and we did everything for these kids, and they were just eating me up. They were insatiable – they wanted my attention. The twelve step people had to have me involved in their twelve steps. I was just dying physically. My marriage was in trouble, and everything was just really bad.
So I decided to phoney up some excuse to get out of ministry for a while, so I went and did a doctorate degree to take a break. It’s true – it was the easiest year I spent in my whole entire life. In one year I did three years’ worth of doctorate work at Fuller Seminary.
That’s where I met John Wimber and became his teaching assistant, and learned how to participate in the power of God in deliverance and healing and stuff like that. And I was drawn to that because of the brokenness I experienced in this street ministry where all I had was teaching and compassion and good counselling skills.
So to make a long story short, I went back with a little more fire power, and a whole lot of good stuff happened. It complicated my life in lots of other ways, but at least they got help which they couldn’t have got otherwise.
So we need to cultivate the whole power thing. It’s not the foundation, but it’s definitely one of our tools, one of our weapons. You’ve got to have it. It’s not an option – sorry, all of you conservative people listening to this. And it’s the way the world is going anyway. God’s bringing it to you whether you want it or not. And if he doesn’t bring it to you, he’ll bring it to your kids and to your wife.
Question and answer session
Grace and Healing Conference